As a member of Sommer Leigh’s League of Monstrologists, I’m going to tell you about Fenrir, the great wolf of Norse mythology.
Even if you’re not a fan of Norse mythology, you’ve probably heard of Loki. He’s shown up in all sorts of movies, comic books, and literature. You may already know that Loki is a trickster and the father of lies. But you may not know that he is also an adulterer. (Did you even know he was married?)
Loki stepped out on his wife Sigyn to spend time with the giantess Angrboda. Together, they had three children: Hel the half-rotted woman, Jormungand the giant serpent, and Fenrir the wolf. If you said that these were three of the most fearsome (not to mention ugliest) children that a god ever had, you couldn’t be far off the mark.
The Norn (Norse counterpart to the Greek Fates) warned the other gods that these three were destined to cause trouble. Odin immediately arranged to have Hel and Jormungand imprisoned, but he chose to let Fenrir (who was just a wolf, after all) roam free. Odin’s son Tyr befriended Fenrir and fed him hunks of meat to keep him off of the sheep and cattle (and villagers).
But when Fenrir started getting big, the gods became nervous. Odin lost all sympathy for Fenrir when the Norn foretold that the wolf was destined to open his great, big mouth full of great, big teeth and swallow Odin whole.
It was time to bind Fenrir.
Why they didn’t just kill him, I’ll never understand. Something about not spilling evil blood in Asgard. But honestly, I think I’d risk a stain on the carpet to get rid of something that was likely to eat me in the future.
The gods boldly set off to find a way to trap Fenrir without actually having to come near his teeth. They made a heavy, iron chain and challenged Fenrir to break it. Confident in his strength, Fenrir allowed them to wind the chain tightly around him. When they were finished, he sucked in a huge breath, flexed his beefy wolf muscles, and popped the iron links apart.
Feeling more nervous than ever, the gods made a heavier chain, twice as strong as the one before. They dared Fenrir to test his strength against it. Naturally, he accepted the challenge. And naturally he burst the links, though he had to work at it a bit this time.
The gods were genuinely worried now, so they sent a messenger to the dwarves, promising gold if they could build bindings that Fenrir couldn’t break. (You may recognize some of the dwarves’ names: Nar, Nain, Niping, Dain, Bifur, Bafur, Bombor, and Nori.) The dwarves rubbed their hands together at the thought of all that loot and set to work. The end result was a light and supple ribbon called Gleipnir.
When the gods dared Fenrir to break this fetter, he eyed it suspiciously. Suspecting magic was involved, he refused the challenge, even when the gods promised to set him free if he couldn’t break it. They taunted him (I wouldn’t be surprised if they double-dog-dared him), but Fenrir only agreed to the challenge when his good buddy Tyr volunteered to put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth.
This time, Fenrir couldn’t break his fetters. The gods found their promise to free him much easier to break. Everyone was happy—except Fenrir, who was now bound, and Tyr, who’d lost his hand.
Thus the brave gods of Norse mythology succeeded in binding Fenrir, who now awaits the end of the world, when he will be set free to gobble up his betrayers.
I’ve been a little flippant in this report, but Fenrir truly is a fierce and potentially devastating monster. He’s one of the few things that can strike fear into the heart of a Viking (right up there with running out of beer). It would be a very bad thing for the world if Fenrir broke loose. Which is exactly what happens in Valknut: the Binding (hopefully available at Amazon in November 2011).
The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland was my main source for this report.